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Digital Empathy™ by Design

By June 15, 2021March 15th, 2022No Comments

Digital Empathy: an emotionally intelligent design language.

Finally, organizations are paying attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the populations they serve. They are discovering that incorporating these principles has resulted in unexpected benefits – that they can “do well by doing good”. Furthermore, thought leaders are realizing it’s not just about giving everyone equitable access to information and services, because one size doesn’t fit all. They are emphasizing that we need to acknowledge and accept what makes each of us unique, rather than expecting everyone to adapt to their perspective. This is a key element in successfully embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion and is particularly relevant when we consider communication. These discoveries have led to the emergence of a new paradigm in communicating with people, particularly when collecting information.

Digital Empathy embeds the core principles of empathy—compassion, cognition, and emotion—in the design of communication tools like surveys and assessments to enhance the user experience. Using a Digitally Empathetic Design Framework can help address issues of inequity, stigma, and data accuracy. It acknowledges and incorporates existing design practices, including visual design languages like material design, and strategies like inclusive, content, and service design:

  • Material Design is a standard for user interface design with a clean, intuitive visual language that mimics properties of the physical world to create a tangible user experience. Material Design was created by Google for a broad scope of use cases, so certain details like typography and specific colour palettes are left to the designer’s discretion. Digital Empathy, on the other hand, uses a more curated visual language to achieve a specific goal: to help users feel comfortable to share their information.
  • Inclusive Design is integral to Digital Empathy: by incorporating it into the Digital Empathy Design Framework, certain users (often with very specific needs) are not excluded or alienated. For example, Digital Empathy meets colour and type size requirements, and language follows the CDC Plain Language guidelines when appropriate.
  • Content Design is a design and copywriting strategy for creating content (written or visual) that is specific to what users need. The Digital Empathy Design Framework incorporates it into the user interface design by drawing particular attention to user needs, making visual and written information in the tools accessible, relevant, and easy to understand.
  • Service Design is a component of user experience design, and deals with intangible user experiences and workflows, rather than interfaces and products. Digital Empathy incorporates it by prioritizing the needs of end-users and ensuring that the experience of the tools is seamless and efficient from start to finish. In addition, Digital Empathy helps users achieve a goal that extends beyond the completion of the tool to when they have received appropriate care.

Clients value the ability use the framework to tailor and adapt Digital Empathy tools to their specific populations, for example, supporting schools address mental health needs and wellbeing. Where Digital Empathy really shines is the ability to identify “silent” students – those that seem ok on the surface, but after taking the screener, reveal issues that might have gone unnoticed. As one client explained, by using digitally empathic tools their students felt they could open up as the computer doesn’t judge. Another client stated that their students felt heard, had a sense of belonging, and that the school cared about them.

Leveraging a more Digitally Empathetic framework to collect information results in more highly accurate, sensitive, and specific actionable person-reported data being collected. With more and better data, organizational efficiency increases, and outcomes are improved for everyone involved. We encourage organizations to consider how empathetic they are when they seek to collect information from their patients, students, members, clients, employees, and others, and to adopt such a Digitally Empathetic approach in their communication efforts.

Claire le Nobel is a Product UI and Marketing Designer at Tickit Health. With a background in interaction design and design for social innovation, Claire leads the Digital Empathy design team for Tickit tools.


Learn more about Digital Empathy here.